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7 Apr, 2021 14:57

Turkey will push Istanbul canal plan forward ‘whether you like it or not’, Erdogan says, promises to ‘lay groundwork’ this summer

Turkey will push Istanbul canal plan forward ‘whether you like it or not’, Erdogan says, promises to ‘lay groundwork’ this summer

Ankara will soon hold a tender for the construction of a canal on the outskirts of Istanbul, Turkey’s president has said. Estimated at over $9 billion, the project drew sharp criticism from environmentalists and the opposition.

Speaking before lawmakers with his ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party on Wednesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said work on the ambitious project is expected to start shortly.

“We’ve completed preparations for Canal Istanbul to a great extent,” Erdogan said. “The tender will be held soon and we’ll lay groundwork in the summer.”

The project, estimated to cost at least 75 billion lira ($9.2 billion), will create a whole new city of some 500,000, Erdogan predicted. The president brushed off any criticism of the project, insisting Turkey will go forward with it “whether you like it or not.”

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The canal project has already drawn criticism from various sides. The waterway would extend some 50 kilometers along the western outskirts of Istanbul, running parallel to the busy Bosporus strait, linking the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.

The project has been attacked by Turkish opposition over its eye-popping costs, which are expected to further burden the already-strained resources of the country. Turkey’s national currency, the lira, has been locked into a perpetual downward slide over the past few years.

The canal project has also raised the concerns of environmentalists who argue the artificial waterway may damage local ecosystems and pollute freshwater resources.

The ambitious plan has also been criticized by some in the country’s military circles, with over 100 ex-navy officers releasing an open letter to warn about the potential security implications over the weekend.

The Bosporus is the subject of the 1936 Montreux Convention, the cornerstone international treaty regulating Turkey’s sovereignty over the straits. The treaty strictly limits the tonnage of military ships of nations from other regions allowed to enter the Black Sea. That is why the digging of a new waterway not subject to the treaty may push Turkey into a conflict between major naval powers.

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“We are of the opinion to refrain from any kind of rhetoric or action that could make the Montreux Convention… a matter of controversy,” the group stated, adding that it was “worrying” to open the treaty up to debate.

The letter sparked an angry reaction in Ankara, with 10 ex-admirals being arrested and others investigated. The declaration from the military’s ex-leaders was “reminiscent of coup times”, according to presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin. The top officials signaled the letter’s signatories will be subjected to a major probe into their motives.

“Not only those who signed but also those who encourage them will give an account before justice,” Erdogan’s top media aide Fahrettin Altun has said.

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